High-Ranking People Used the Cassette Incident as a Tool for Blackmail

Could you be self-critical about the 'Cassette incident' that started in June 1999?

The Cassette Incident did not start in June. Even before June, some people were releasing it piece by piece. It had a background. We had learnt what some people were capable of. Someone had previously run a news story about the group marketing that business, and the ones who appeared on television collected the cassettes here and there in a place even Security knew about and assembled them. However, I could not do anything about it. There were some strong people whom we could not overcome and get a grip on. They were determined to do as they wished. Besides, they wanted to blackmail one of our friends, a retailer. I was living in Istanbul at the time. [The retailer] came to me and said, "They are saying such and such; however, if I turn them in, they will fire me." The Incident had a blackmail side as well. From this angle, it had started a while before. They were picking statements from cassettes and then splicing them together. Surely, as human beings, we can talk without hindrance even during this interview. These are reviewed later. There could be things that we talked pompously about. I have to confess that I am ashamed of the statements I made that are against my style.

Is this because of your statements in this cassette?

Yes. I think there were some people among my friends who had evil thoughts, acted upon those thoughts and created a big affair around that whole incident; similar to the way someone is acting now. There are people like that around now. It is possible. I assume they were coming to our group talks, because everyone was coming. It was open to everyone. From those in Yesilcam [the Hollywood of Turkey] to those in the music world, to theologists; everyone was suddenly coming. Everyone had a question to ask. I witnessed people of the Nationalist Movement coming as well. I even witnessed people who were wanted by the police coming. They said: "Perhaps we will be caught. We listened to your sermon. We came to make amends." There were even civil servants. They complained about the pressures that they were subjected to. I said, "Conceal [your feelings] from your superiors. That means, I did not say what the group necessarily wanted to hear. I tried to remedy everyone's troubles as much as I could. But most of these were private discussions. They involved only a few people. It means that there were a few among the audience that had ill-intentions. They were recording [my speeches] with concealed tape-recorders. Perhaps, they also hid cameras in their bags. Since then, I have been thinking that they were recording pieces and then selling them or working for someone else. There are some faces, some types that I have in mind. I suspect them as well. They were the ones doing that evil. But saying it now is meaningless. We do not have the power to go back in time. I say that there is goodness in the will of God. However, everything was plotted with very bad intentions. That is, they were plotted in order to sentence a person. As a matter of fact, they could find things that would land a person the death sentence if they underwent a search, in anyone's book or speeches.

That speech was perceived as such that it was believed there was an underlying message to your tolerance and dialogue studies, namely that you wanted to take over the state from the inside.

Was it unfair?

Tolerance was not something that I started in those days. Tolerance was in my soul, in my nature. There is a book [entitled] 'Criteria or Lights of the Way'; it is a collection of notes that I had taken during the period when I was an administrator in the Kestanepazari [Mosque]. Friends later published those [notes] bit by bit in magazines. My mutaala (study and research) about the state, the republic, and democracy are [in these notes]. Besides, I always stated my different thoughts at different times, whether or not they were valuable. In Edirne, while I was preaching when I was young, I replied to someone's insult of [Mustafa Kemal] Ataturk while standing at the pulpit of the mosque. Namely, whatever I think today and however tolerant I am, I was the same back then. I have always been formal with people. Maybe, because of my attitude in general, people felt close to me. My attitudes were so. I was always stating my feelings at the pulpits. I preached 30-40 years in the mosques. If a person has an agenda and a plan, one day he certainly expresses it. I have never been interrogated for those speeches. I was a civil servant. I was not even cross-examined according to the Law on the Prosecution of Civil Servants. I was never brought to trial. I was followed during the time of martial law. It was a period of military regime. On March 12 1971, when the trial had ended, a pardon law was put into effect. It was in the judiciary and they wanted to sentence me. When I was talking to the prosecutor that day, he said: "A few from them, several from you, we try to balance it out." That is, [the prosecutor was referring to] leftists and rightists. I realized with these calculations, that in the court of martial law, such a thing occurred; but I do not remember that I underwent an interrogation because of my duty.

Everyone was coming. A tightly packed congregation was coming to listen to me. I preached in the Suleymaniye Mosque, Sultanahmet Mosque, Fatih Mosque. 15-20 thousand people came. There were all kinds among them. Since I was a known person, I think the listeners were taping them. However, nothing came from it. If I were the one with a secret agenda, I would have stated it here as well. It would have just slipped out from a person's mouth. There was no clear, obvious thing about the subjects, such as taking over the state or penetrating into the state. When these claims were brought up before the prosecutor, he laughed at them: "Is the state to be taken over by these?"

Another issue is, I was always talked about; files were kept on me. But, who were these people that wanted to take over the state? I wish they would have mentioned a few of them. I wish, those people who opened lawsuits on the grounds that this was a terrorist organization would have mentioned a few members of the organization as well. If two plot a sabotage of a place, they take 20 in. In the last incidents, they did this as well.

Every one near me was coming and going. All of the political party leaders came. They were coming and talking. They could have had observations or expectations. They thought they could entice sympathizers to their side. Let me not make an ill-supposition. It might be. But, they were coming and going. They were also giving support to those things that had been done. Those things that they claimed never transpired. That is, from the moment we said, "Tolerance", all the things that we did consisted of things in the nature of encouragement and action for education. Mine was always encouragement. I didn't even know where all those schools were opened. At the pulpits of the mosques of all the places I have visited, I said, "Claim education." I said, "Raise a person up." The troubles with our country are ignorance, discord, picking on each other, and poverty. The remedy for all is for the rich to be organized, to learn to work." Even today, I wish the people who come to see me, Turkish entrepreneurs, would do something here by all means. And I state my thoughts with good intentions as such, "Did you do good market research, a background check? Do you have competitors in this field ahead you?" I stated the same thing there [Turkey]. I found an analogue. It cost people. As a matter of fact, the majority of the people that they were making claims about had done very important things for the future of Turkey. I was preaching. Thousands of people were listening. But, I cannot know all. Maybe, I could know the ones closest to the pulpit through their faces. I would have directed them to some other activities instead of education.

Secondly, what can they claim has been done on the subject since that day? Do they come across as organized? Has the tiniest trace of such a thing been seen? It remains that the same prosecutor who took my deposition previously due to an incident also decided that the indictment was squashed.

This was again a kind of a conspiracy. Then, it changed all of the sudden. There are other things. I would not say what they were. There were people who used that incident as blackmail. That is, there were people who said, "If you are for this, or support that, we will kill you." But, I would not name names. These will be buried with me. What happened, who did what and said what are known from the documents. I entrust this to history. Someday, it will certainly come out. The ones who thought they were so great will feel much shame for their false (hilafi vaki) statements, how they lowered themselves to the conspiracy, and how they created pressure. Their saying, "No matter what you do, find something about him,"... All of these [things I am telling you] exist in writing. These were signed at the same time. There are the words: "No matter what you do, if he does not have anything, if he does not have any weakness such as stealing, even if he does not have any weakness we could use against him, find these in someone close to him. Destroy him with someone close to him." One day, someone will publish these.

When will these be published?

I wait for my death. I entrusted these to my death.

During these five years what books did you read? Whom did you explore?

I do not read books systematically. I read a few classics. For example, with some friends who have careers here, we read the Muvafakat related to the methodology of fiqh [Muslim canonical jurisprudence] by Shatibi.

We are trying to read a kulliyat [collective works] of Hadith. It is kind of a different thing; it is about people who passed along the hadith, people who we refer to as rical... In former times, I believe during the fifth, sixth century, (A.H.) it was being practiced. But, it is not being practiced nowadays nor is it really known. I tried to teach friends who came to see me about the rical. I may open the door and show it a little in film. Because those [rical] are the lineage of the text of Hadith. The strength and health of a hadith is known by those people. Other than that, there were books related to the past and present of the Islamic world written elsewhere and translated. Some written in Turkey were sent. Sometimes, it was necessary to resort to an encyclopedia for more details. Sometimes I made had to research on my own for idioms and terms. I was rather busy with the things that I could do by myself.

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